Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Everything tastes better when you add Mexican chocolate

I made cookies last night for the first time in ages. I'm not quite sure what got into me. We've had some of the loveliest weather of the summer these past few days--cool and clear and sunny--but it's actually chilly at night. Like, under 50. Cold enough to need an extra blanket and a couple of cats to stay warm. So, maybe the oncoming chill made me want to turn on the oven, and maybe it was that I needed an activity while I was waiting for the tomato sauce to cook down. (The first garden tomato sauce of the summer, and it was delicious!)

So, I found a recipe for chocolate oatmeal cookies in a Dorie Greenspan cookbook, and I decided to make half a batch, so I could satisfy my cookie-making urge while not tempting myself excessively. I had to improvise a bit--I didn't have enough chocolate, or exactly the right kind of chocolate--and I found myself thinking, Oh, I can just put some Mexican chocolate in to make up the difference. And as I was grating the Mexican chocolate into the dry ingredients, I thought back to my first real Mexican chocolate experience and realized that it was 15 years ago, and that made me feel very, very old.

In the summer of 1993, I was living in Seattle and studying Hindi at the U of Washington in preparation for going to India on a Fulbright in the fall. A few of my college friends were living in Seattle, and we hung out pretty often. I saw my friend Andrea quite a bit, as well as her sister Lindsey, who was studying Mandarin for the summer. (We'd meet sometimes on campus, and after listening to what she was doing in class, I would have to acknowledge that Mandarin was a harder language to learn than Hindi.)

One day, just a week or two before I was leaving, we decided to make cookies. We were in the apartment I was subletting, and there was a copy of the Silver Palate cookbook, and we decided to make oatmeal cookies. Except that the recipe called for 1 1/2 sticks of butter, and we only had one, and it called for 3 cups of oats, and we only had 2 1/2. It was a situation--like last night--where the cookies wouldn't have gotten made if we'd had to go out to get stuff. We could have fudged it, or reduced the recipe, but instead we decided to improvise. We used peanut butter in place of the butter we didn't have. And then Andrea pulled out a little yellow box in the shape of a hexagon from the cabinet. It was Mexican chocolate, the kind with cinnamon in it that you usually use to make Mexican hot chocolate. "Let's put some of this in," she said. So, we grated it up, and used a half cup to make up for the oats we didn't have.

We started to get the idea that we might be on to something before the cookies were out of the oven. The smell was somewhat more sophisticated than the usual sweet cookie smell. And as we tasted them, we were both silent. The peanut butter gave the cookies a mellow base, and the cinnamon in the Mexican chocolate picked up the cinnamon already in the recipe. The chocolate was subtle, but present, and our mouths were suffused with this oaty-spicy-chocolaty-peanuty flavor. We decided that, perhaps, we were geniuses.

We ate more cookies and divided the rest up. I gave some to a few of my Hindi class friends (at least one of whom has gone on to bigger, better, and more dangerous things), and Andrea gave some to her housemates. Somehow, though, she did not give any to her sister. And so a few days later, after having bragged about our cookie-making prowess extensively, we found ourselves having lunch with Lindsey, who mostly wanted to talk about the cookies she hadn't tasted. "So, tell me again, it was the peanut butter you tasted first?" she asked wistfully. Why we didn't go home right then and make another batch, I have no idea.

For years, I was scared to make these cookies again, afraid that they wouldn't be as good as I remembered. But I had nothing to fear.

(As for last night's cookies, they were these, as discussed by Tartelette. Very chocolaty and rich, with some chewiness from the oats. And I have no doubt that the Mexican chocolate made them taste better.)

Oatmeal-Peanut Butter-Mexican Chocolate Cookies
adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

8 tbsps. (1 stick) butter
4 tbsps. peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsps. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup grated Mexican chocolate (Ibarra brand)
1 cup raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 cookie sheets.

2. Cream butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add egg and beat thoroughly. Add peanut butter and mix again. Mix in water and vanilla.

3. Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda; add to the egg mixture and mix well. Add oats, grated Mexican chocolate and raisins, if using, and mix.

4. Form cookies on cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes (15-17 if cookies are extra large).


Michelle said...

Have you thought of studying Mandarin Chinese? It is a fun and rewarding hobby. Mandarin is much more simple than people make it out to be. Sites like do a good job of laying out the basics of Mandarin without charging a dime!

Kitt said...

What she said! Mandarin's way easy, at least when it comes to the grammar.

Great-sounding cookies and a nice story. I used Mexican chocolate to make pudding recently, and it was pretty tasty.